When compared to many developed countries, students in the U.S. are average in reading and science and below average in math. In math, 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 36 of 65 countries in a 2012 Program for International Student Assessment.
Many agree that the public education system is broken, but disagree on the path to progress. In a recent Gallup poll, 49% of Americans said they're dissatisfied with the quality of education K-12 students in the U.S. are receiving today.
A lot of teachers say that part of the problem is that there is too much emphasis on standardized testing. Jesse Hagopian, a public high school teacher in Seattle, says these tests have "pushed out everything that matters in education," such as creativity and critical thinking. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham says educators completely against standardized testing are “trying to avoid accountability."
Jesse Hagopian, high school teacher, Seattle, WA
About 85% of primary and secondary school students in the U.S. attend public schools. The majority of them attend traditional public schools which are publically funded and operated. About 6% attend charter schools which are also publically funded but are run by a private group or an organization that has signed a contract (charter) with the state or a local authority.
Although these schools still have to follow some of the same federal and state guidelines as traditional public schools, they give teachers and administrators more flexibility in setting their curriculum. Charter schools have been touted by some as part of the solution to the problems plaguing America's public education system. Cunningham, who is currently the executive director of Education Post, a non-profit "communications organization promoting education reform," says the charter system is "proof that schools can teach low-income kids and get good results."
Others like Hagopian strongly oppose the charter system. “My problem with charter schools is that they’re anti-democratic. They’re not under the control of a democratically elected school board,” he says. Hagopian adds that the charter system "siphons off public funds to private schools" and serves to create "a profit model from public education."
Peter Cunningham, fmr Asst. Secy. of Education
Race and poverty
For the first time in U.S. history, minority students outnumber whites in American public schools. Last fall, 50.3% of students were black, Hispanic, Asian or another non-white ethnicity. Also, for the first time in at least 50 years, the majority of public school students (51%) come from low-income families, making poverty, and consequently race, increasingly part of the conversation about education in America.
Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at New York University says the U.S. public school system works for middle class students, but not for students living in poverty. Noguera says, America has a "fundamental opportunity gap" and that public schools "that are serving the neediest kids are overwhelmed [and] don't have the resources."
Pedro Noguera, NYU professor of education
Tune in for the debate:
Sunday on Third Rail, we ask: Is public education in the U.S. broken beyond repair? Peter Cunningham, Jesse Hagopian and Pedro Noguera join us for the debate. Tune in at 6PM ET/3PM PT on Al Jazeera America.